New York, NY – Bill Caramico, a mechanic and shop steward at Local 94, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), as well as a member of its Executive Board, has a mission: to educate the non-union public about the vital importance of putting its support behind unions. Some years ago, Kuba Brown, Business Manager and Financial Secretary at Local 94, tasked Caramico with getting the word out. And Caramico’s message is clear: it’s not just for the union’s sake, but, more importantly, for the survival of the country as a whole.
Caramico wants everyone to understand that without unions, everyone suffers, from the small business owners, to schools, to doctors, and everyone else who benefits financially from the union wages workers are paid. “The butchers, the bakers, the candlestick makers – they all need to know that without unions, they lose money. If the union people don’t make money, the people we do business with don’t make money. If I have no union health coverage, my doctor doesn’t get paid.”
Caramico sees unions as crucial to the maintenance of the American middle class, and is particularly concerned by the current political climate, and the rise and influence of such figures as Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor who has limited collective bargaining in his state, the Koch brothers, and of course, the current President. “Today, we have the highest poverty in the U.S. in its history, and the lowest union membership,” he says. “When you kill the unions, you are killing the middle-class.” The rise of the afore-mentioned players, and the one percent, he believes, is evidence of this.
A big concern of his is that people “see labor as the bad guy,” when in fact the opposite is true. “We all live in the same communities – except the one percent. Wall Street doesn’t do business with America, Main Street does, and labor is Main Street. We’re not sending our money offshore, we’re not buying stocks.” He worries that media does not inform people of the reality that unions are central to the economy, meanwhile they are being chipped away at, with efforts to eliminate OSHA and the National Labor Relations Board, and to enact a national “Right to Work” law, and change the New York constitution, which could badly impact unions. “When we crumble, so will all the businesses we support,” he says.
Caramico particularly wants to get the word out to younger people (he is 64), who he feels might be over-influenced by the media, and may not understand the history of the unions and the correlation between union strength and the U.S. economy. So he teaches classes at the union on labor history and how to fight back, and takes to social media to spread his message. In step with the times, he says, “We don’t care what your sexual orientation is, what your religion or race is, we’re all in it together.”
What he wants is for those he educates to go out into their community and likewise show their support by who they vote for and where they do business. He points out that most people don’t know that their taxes subsidize underpaid Walmart workers to the tune of over six billion dollars a year. “We have to go out and start preaching to the community – the church, the bars, the after-school programs, the small stores, and let them know – you survive because I make a good living.”
With three grandchildren himself, he asks, “Who would you rather trust your grandchildren’s future to, a Scott Walker, or a union leader, like Kuba Brown? I’d choose a union leader every time.” He vows, “I’m not going to let the Koch brothers and Scott Walker take away the American dream from my grandchildren, and you shouldn’t.”